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How Barcelona Can Return to Dominating Football

Barcelona’s fall from the top has been well documented. After winning the treble in 2015, things at the Camp Nou just haven’t been the same. They’re reportedly in debt of over 850 million euros and costly signings like Coutinho, Dembelé and Griezmann haven’t worked out despite being bought for a combined 403 million euros. Between the three of them, they have 56 goal involvements in 8,796 league minutes, or one every 157 minutes.

Not only did they lose out on the league title this season to Real Madrid, but Los Blancos look comfortably better that Barcelona. The Catalan club finished on 82 points, their worse tally since 2007/08, this is the same for their 86 goals scored. They also conceded 38 goals giving them the fifth best defence in the league, their lowest placing in this metric for 17 years. Although at the time of writing they are still in the Champions League, they failed to get to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey for the first time in 11 seasons.

All of this along with aging stars like Messi, Busquets, Suárez and Alba means the next few transfer windows are crucial for Barcelona.

For now, the club should stick with Quique Setién. He’s only had a few months in charge and although they haven’t been playing swashbuckling attacking football, the former Betis manager has had a huge task on his hands. He has had to change the style from Valverde’s defence first football to the possession heavy football which gained him many plaudits at Real Betis. Rumours suggest Lionel Messi wants Setién gone however, the same rumours were put around shortly after Luis Enrique’s appointment. Enrique went on to win 138 of his 181 games in charge, a win rate of 76.2%, ahead of Guardiola’s 72.5%. Whilst at the helm, Luis won nine trophies in his three years, 9.57% of the club’s total, trophies and making him the club’s fourth most successful manager.

Under Quique, the side have conceded 0.4 goals a game less than under Valverde in 2019/20 whilst averaging 69% of the ball, the highest in Europe. Although the attack has got worse, there have been glimpses of what they can do. In their 4-1 win over a strong Villarreal side, Messi played as a roaming 10 behind Suárez and Griezmann, something which hasn’t been replicated down to Suárez being out for six months due to injury. The side have also pressed more meaning they look more like the Barcelona of old, this isn’t surprising as Setién is a known disciple of Cruyff.

Pochettino turned down the club’s advancements in January as he is loyal to their rivals Espanyol. Erik ten Hag seems like the ideal candidate due to the style of play he has implemented at Ajax whilst also winning and getting to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018/19, even winning 4-1 at the Bernabéu. However, ten Hag would want reassurances which the club won’t be able to offer at the moment due to their presidential election coming up in 2021.

The club will also have to trust in its youth. The aforementioned aging squad means a lot of the players simply aren’t up to pressing especially for the full 90 minutes. La Masia is famed for producing great talents and we’ve seen players like Traoré, Bellerín, Piqué, Icardi, Fàbregas and more leave due to a lack of first team action. With players such as Ansu Fati, Carles Aleñá and Riqui Puig ready for first team minutes, Barcelona can’t afford to lose them.

Not only will it save the clubs million in transfer fees, but it will also keep the fans onside and keep other La Masia graduates stay if they see a path into the first team. The club pride itself on its academy and on how many of its legends are from La Masia but it needs to come back to fruition, the club needs to go back to its roots and use their homegrown stars.

The Blaugrana have fielded a squad with an average age of over 30 three times in 2019/20, the second most, whilst possessing the sixth oldest squad in the league with an average age of 27.4. Out of the club’s top eight appearance makers in 2019/20, only one was under the age of 28 and out of the top 15, seven are 31 or older and only three are under 25, one of which is Arthur who they swapped for a 30-year-old Pjanić. If the hierarchy don’t see this as a sign that they need to integrate some academy stars into the first team, the club are in bigger trouble than anyone thought.

The club’s awful transfer business over the last few years has unsurprisingly not only left them in a lot of debt, but also with a lot of squad building to do. Not only have the club lost over 150 million euros in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic but they also have the expensive revamp of the Nou Camp planned and the highest wage bill in the world, over £100 million per year more than anyone else. This leaves very little room for error in the next few years in the transfer market.

With the lack of funds, Lautaro Martínez makes little sense as he would cost upwards of £90 million. Although Luka Jović is available for a cut price of 50 million euros, his wages are around 150 thousand euros a week. Marcus Thuram would cost a similar fee to Jović, is on around a third of his wages and is only a few months older than the Serbian international.

Marcus Thuram scored 10 and assisted eight in 2019/20 as he helped Gladbach finish fourth in the Bundesliga. He put up an xG+xA per 90 of 0.77, 0.45 and 0.32 respectively, the same as Luis Suárez, 0.09 higher than Martínez and far higher than Griezmann’s 0.45. Thuram can play as either a striker or off the left, this versatility will be extremely useful for Setién.  Although he isn’t as good as a goal scorer as the others, his creativity would be welcomed to the Barcelona side especially seen as they still heavily rely on Lionel Messi in that regard.

By signing Thuram, who’s dad played for Barcelona, they could save a lot of money which means Coutinho could stay. They could also reinvest some money into the defence and midfield. This would bring better balance to the squad rather than just targeting Lautaro Martínez.

Although this only scratches the surface of the problems at Barcelona, it is a step in the right direction. By the 2021 presidential election, the club could look very different especially if Bartomeu is replaced.


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